Listen to this track by formerly monikered Soft Boys and ’80s neo-psychedeliaists Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. It’s “Madonna Of The Wasps”, the lead track on their 1989 record Queen Elvis. In addition to former Soft Boys members Hitchcock, plus bassist Andy Metcalfe, and drummer Morris Windsor, this song features the distinctive lines of another key player worth mentioning; R.E.M’s Peter Buck.
Buck, and his band, were formed by following the example of what Hitchcock had laid down with the Soft Boys, particularly their Underwater Moonlight album. And here, Hitchcock reinforces that influence on one of his most enduring pop songs. A recurring theme in his work seems to revolve around insects, from cans of bees as forming the title of the first Soft Boys record, to references to Antwomen later on, and even with a documentary about him called Sex, Food, Death … And Insects, with all of those other things referenced being recurring themes in his work as well.
Hitchcock’s particular parallel is to draw a comparison between our six-legged friends and a form of idealized womanhood. And no song does this better than this one. And it shows something else too beyond Hitchcock’s affinity for writing songs about our winged, stingie-tailed pals.
Listen to this song by wingnut genius singer-songwriter and psych-pop revivalist Robyn Hitchcock with his late 80s-early 90s band The Egyptians: “So You Think You’re in Love” from his 1991 album Perspex Island.
This song and the record off of which it comes was Hitchcock’s shot at ‘breaking America’, something of a cliche perhaps among English pop musicians. At the end of the 80s, Hitchcock found a friend in REM, who were also interested in the jangly-60s Byrdsian approach to pop songwriting. But, where REM had established an audience in the mainstream by then, Hitchcock was still trolling the waters of cult and college radio hipness. Yet, the two bands toured together at the height of REM’s success, exposing the Egyptians to a crowd who might never have otherwise heard them.
In some ways, Hitchcock never really stood a chance at being the biggest band in the world. Although this song is totally accessible and in a classic Beatles-Byrds pop vein, Hitchcock’s lyrical interests are still way off of the beaten track and into the trees. This is what I love about him, of course. Well, that and he still knows enough to write good tunes as well. But, a mainstream audience would never be ready for a guy who likes to write about food and insects, in addition to being able to write cool love songs like this one.
For more information about Robyn Hitchcock, check out his site.